children, children, black&white

Tyger! Tyger! Burning bright…
“The Tyger,” William Blake
Dost thou know who made thee…
“The Lamb,” William Blake

children, children, black&white
do you know who made you

made you black
made you white
made you neither

children, children, black&white
do you know who loves you

we will see you
hold you tight
our precious children

—P.L. Thomas

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wisteria (like a photograph)

i am so tired
i can barely lift my arms

i struggle to carry myself
from one moment to the next

there are two photographs
of my mother lying in the sun
both dated JUL 71

she is so rail thin
i fear she could not stand
or lift a finger if needed

i am reminded of another photograph
of my sister and me on the floor
dated AUG 68

we are so rail thin
that my grandmother cried
when my mother showed her

we drive past a canopy of wisteria
in the early days of a pandemic spring

i am sure i know the word “wisteria”
because of my mother who loved purple

when i look at photographs now
there is a melancholia of recognition

everyone captured in these moments
wanted to live forever like a photograph

—P.L. Thomas

skinny rose alone 71skinny rose with patsy 71skinny paul and eydie 68

the consequences of gravity (one last flight)

i am losing track of time and space
and 3-D

i am flattening out

here and square on the floor
like a tile

i misread the consequences
of gravity

thinning out to almost nothing

please be careful where you step
and stand

i cannot bear the weight of you
on me

in this grave situation i did not expect
so soon

i have worried myself paper-thin

we will not fill up and drift away
it seems

but wither to almost nothing

if you find the time
and me here on the floor

lift me gently before
folding me into a paper airplane

take me to the tallest building
to send me on one last flight

—P.L. Thomas

our personal pandemic

I hunger to commit the act of touch.
Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale

we stopped shaking hands
we kept each other at arm’s length

we were so afraid of dying
we soon stopped living

we remembered each other’s finger tips
we dreamed about each other’s lips

no one was simply waving
everyone in fact was drowning

the shorelines left abandoned
beaches stretched like barren deserts

we stopped shaking hands
we kept each other at arm’s length

we were so afraid of dying
we soon stopped living

—P.L. Thomas

a theory of balloons

the little/ lame balloonman/ whistles
[in Just-], e.e. cummings


you say “existential”
to my 5-year-old grand-daughter
talking about the homeless man
wearing camouflage
& sitting cross-legged
by the highway


while waiting on our pizza
the balloon woman
makes her a butterfly
with pink wings
a yellow body
& a Sharpie® smiley face


she wears the balloon butterfly
on her tiny child’s arm
sitting in her car seat
worrying about her brother
popping the balloon
when she gets home


i tell her balloons & butterflies
are both beautiful colorful
frail & certain to die
so we should enjoy them
while we have the chance
& not worry about that


we try to soothe her
by saying we have pictures
of the butterfly balloon
that will last forever
but she says “except a video”
so you record her theory of balloons


balloons pop if there’s something spiky
then you cry & cry & then you get one later
i’ve got a balloon butterfly
& i’m never going to pop it
sometimes i’m going to pop it
& that’s okay i’m going to stop thinking about it


you tell her just to repress her feelings
& accept this is as part of life
that sometimes things break
just is what it is (we’re laughing)
no need to feel anything about it
& she says okay too seriously


she falls asleep as we drive
the balloon butterfly clinging
to her tiny child’s arm
too beautiful & terribly frail
i carry her in sleep-heavy in my arms
like a balloon or a butterfly

—P.L. Thomas

balloon butterfly sky


on turning 59, dementia, and social media

The day I die, the day I die
Where will we be?
“Day I Die,” The National

I want today to be far away already, far away like a runaway balloon
“Eleven,” Sandra Cisneros

after i shuffle off this mortal coil
after i no longer cling to this corporeal thing called My Life

if you still love me
if you can still love me

do not post pictures of my dementia on social media
do not there document that physical and mental decline

me crouched empty-eyed in the corner like a child
except for the face and clothes of an elderly man

please find something to remember
to share of the fleeting better me

if you can

or simply do nothing not even a zero
because i am no longer there or even any Me

the balloon has been set free from the string
rising finally and then completely out of sight

—P.L. Thomas


i am the last person my father spoke to

my swollen father
wheel-chair bound
sitting beside my mother
stripped of speaking
by a stroke days earlier

his voice rough and faint
calling me by name
to take him to the bathroom
and explaining not a bedpan
in a simple request of his son

moments later on the toilet
surrounded by three nurses
my father there surrendered
despite the shared persistence
of his pacemaker and those women

we rushed my mother out
gathering in the hallway
trying to calm her solitary groaning
incomprehensible and terrified
like the muffled pleading from the room

people go to the bathroom and people die every second

—P.L. Thomas

i love a woman who swears

Your poetry’s bad and you blame the news

“Norman Fucking Rockwell,” Lana Del Ray

i love a woman who swears

xxxxxcussing often and beautifully
xxxxxas the sun and moon command the sky

xxxxxsinging along to songs that begin “goddamn”
xxxxxdropping a tune as offensive as the profanity

i love a woman who swears

xxxxxtelling me she’ll never leave me
xxxxxlike she is commanding me to go to hell

xxxxxcussing up a storm that ends in rainbows
xxxxxjust to ask me if i like her nails

i love a woman who swears

xxxxxtexting me what is this shit
xxxxxwhen i share a draft of this poem

xxxxxchallenging me ruthlessly along the way
xxxxxto saying she likes it and just kidding

—P.L. Thomas

the most often thing (nature is a force)

Underwater, you’re almost free
If you want be alone, come with me
“Rylan,” The National


the most often thing
was his heart lifting
out of his chest (it seemed)

the length of her legs
from bare knees to feet
and the joints along there

the most often thing
left empty and alone until
this of her filled him to bursting


nature is a force he said
not a sentient creature
an avalanche but not a squirrel

like loneliness she asked
sitting on bed’s edge in such a way
her hand resting atop her foot

later she was disappointed in him
welling slowly but fully into anger
like waves washing away a sandcastle


he began to imagine her
fourteen years in the future
layered unknowably around those eyes

how does anyone survive he wondered
the thousand little cuts of disappointment
that must erode the beach of their love

—P.L. Thomas

past (father’s day)

Round here, she’s slipping though my hands

“Round Here,” Counting Crows

i texted you in the fog of waking
having not responded the night before

i didn’t fall asleep
i past out

you replied
correcting me as you do

your sleep was so serious
that you went back in time

you often ask me to say hell
as entertainment so i thought

past out is what we say around here
like my extra syllable in hay-uhl

father’s day was a couple days ago
the recent past now passed

while you have been away
i have been looking at my hands

with summer tanning and 58 years
they look even older than usual

but they are all i have left of my father
who passed away two summers ago

mine not exactly like my father’s
because no one has those giant hands

but i see him more and more each day
in my own hands reaching into our past

i texted you i am sorry i am old
carrying almost more past than i can bear

and you asked me about my father’s day
although you know i hate holidays

because they become less holy
but burdens of remembering loss

these things, they go away
replaced by everyday

while i am here mishandling being alone
and you are there

i imagine us on your couch
i lean my head back and close my eyes

so i can only feel the arch of your foot
and not see my father’s hands there

i will not look
i will not let go

—P.L. Thomas